Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gordon Gekko of Sweden stirs staid companies

Bloomberg profiles Christer Gardell, co-founder of Cevian Capital AB. Cevian, a $5 bn fund based in Stockholm, is a frequent target of media criticism for its activist strategies. Swedish media have called Gardell "the butcher," "the corporate pirate'' and "the bad boy of Stureplan,'' after Stockholm's financial district.

It sounds like Swedish corporate culture could use a bit of American-style activism. The article notes that in Sweden, "criticism of an individual is rare and heated debates at meetings are unusual, says Martin Lindell, a professor at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration in Helsinki."

Cevian, which sits on the board of Volvo AB, among other companies, recently bought a three percent stake in Munich Re and is working to end cross-shareholding, the practice of companies owning shares in one another.

"Cross-shareholdings eliminate the shareholder pressure and result in passive boards and CEOs who are running everything,'' Gardell says. "After you eliminate this, shareholders start to show up and put pressure on the boards, which become more active and take more responsibility.''

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